Un-Bear-able Thursday, Satisfying Saturday

By BILL SCHWANKE

NORTHERN COLORADO 65, LADY GRIZ 56

For the Montana Lady Griz their Big Sky Conference opener Thursday night against Northern Colorado – a program that had never beaten Montana in women’s basketball – was a nightmare.

I heard the phrase “deer in the headlights” more than once after the Lady Griz collapse in the second half.

I also had the feeling that if coach Robin Selvig’s hair wasn’t already gray it would have turned starting early in the first half.

It was amazing how poorly the Lady Griz handled UNC’s pressure in the second half, especially after watching how they handled Sac State’s pressure two days later.

The Lady Griz may have outdone themselves in terms of poor shooting at the start of a game. Ironically, when I looked up at the scoreboard to see just how bad it was, it read 3-for-15 from the floor, the same start that the men got off to in Greeley against the Northern Colorado men.

Defense, generally a strong fallback for the Lady Griz, also disappeared down the stretch in the second half when the Bears were able to get way too many layups against Montana. The Bears shot nearly 49 percent from the field, something not very common for opponents in Lady Griz games.

And the Lady Griz generally have fared well on the boards, but not this time as UNC had a 35-28 edge on the glass.

The game wasn’t without bright spots for Montana.

The Lady Griz shot a blistering 85.2 percent from the free throw line (23 for 27) to partially offset a 35 percent effort from the floor.

Individually Katie Baker and Sarah Ena had balanced nights. Baker had 18 points, including 10 of 10 from the stripe, along with 8 rebounds. Ena hit 5 of 11 from the field and both free throw attempts for 12 points while pulling down four rebounds.

Kenzie DeBoer struggled from the field at one for seven but wound up in double figures helped by 8 of 10 from the charity line.

The Lady Griz got little help from the bench as UNC’s subs outscored Montana’s 24-10. The Bears also had a 32-24 edge in points in the paint.

It must have been a quiet locker room for Montana after this one, and it should have been. Definitely one that the Lady Griz could have won with a little more poise than they showed in the second half.

NORTHERN COLORADO MEN 63, GRIZZLIES 45

If the women’s loss to Northern Colorado was embarrassing, the Montana men’s loss to the Bears had to be downright humiliating.

Despite getting off to a slow start and not scoring a field goal for the first seven minutes of the game, the Griz were still in it because their defense was pretty sound. But eventually the inability to convert regularly from the floor or the free throw line took its mental toll and the Griz watched the Bears pull away in the late going after cutting the margin to 45-40.

Montana’s defense still held UNC to just over 42 percent, but unfortunately UM shot just over 32 percent. From the line the Grizzlies started slowly as well and wound up 12 for 19.

The way Montana had been playing of late, with such tremendous scoring balance, it was a shock to see just one player in double figures. Will Cherry hit 11 but was just 3 for 10 from the field. The Griz hit just 25 percent from beyond the arc while Northern hit nearly 37 percent.

It seems that the Griz were mentally on another planet, something that was evident to coach Wayne Tinkle, as disappointed on a post-game radio show as I’ve ever heard him.

I have to say I thought the game at Greeley was one that could end up in the loss column for Montana. After all, the veteran Bears lost only twice at home last season, to Montana and Pacific. And the Bears had won their first two league games on the road at Portland State and Eastern Washington.

But if you’re going to lose to a quality team you want to lose giving it your best effort, and the Grizzlies simply didn’t do that.

LADY GRIZ 78, SAC STATE 35

This game wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

For once the Lady Griz got off to a great start, and unlike what happened in the second half of Thursday night’s loss to Northern Colorado, pressure by the Hornets didn’t make much of a dent at any time during the game.

Coach Robin Selvig was worried about giving Sac State too many points off turnovers. As it turned out the Hornets had 29 giveaways to just 12 for Montana, and the Lady Griz scored 27 off turnovers to just four for the visitors.

Other turnarounds came in bench scoring, where the Lady Griz had a huge 46-12 edge, and points in the paint, where Montana dominated 48-14. And how about second chance points? Montana won again, 19-2.

The Lady Griz just seemed much looser against Sac State, which lost 101-55 at Bozeman Thursday night. The balanced scoring was back led by reserve Jessa Loman Linford’s 13, Katie Baker’s 12 and Alyssa Smith’s 10.

A huge bright spot was true freshman center Jordan Sullivan who had eight  points and 12 rebounds as the Lady Griz held a 50-41 edge on the boards.

Every available Lady Griz player got at least 10 minutes of playing time and it was a hoot to see the likes of Ashley Ferda and Tiana Ware get significant time. Ware showed her quickness and her unselfishness, putting up six points and dishing out three assists.

Other big rebounding efforts came from Sarah Ena with nine, Baker with eight and Smith with six.

The Lady Griz go on the road to Northern Arizona and Weber State next week. Despite what they did against Sac State’s press I have a hunch they’ll see plenty of full-court pressure from both teams right from the start.

And heaven help the Lady Griz if they get off to a slow start in either game in the scoring department.

GRIZ 68, SAC STATE 52

It was touch and go and a scramble for the Grizzlies at Sacramento Saturday night until a seven-minute stretch in the second half when Montana held the Hornets without a single point. By the time the smoke cleared the Griz had held leads up to 22 points and crushed any last-minute effort the home team could muster.

Brian Qvale and Will Cherry, among others, awoke from the deep sleep they had been in two nights earlier.

Qvale hit 11 of 17 from the floor, pulled down nine rebounds and blocked five shots in 28 minutes of action to pace the Grizzlies.

Cherry, even though he had no steals to his credit, hit four of seven from three-point range and dished out seven assists to do his part. And Art Steward, in the starting lineup in place of the injured Kareem Jamar, chipped in 13 points and five rebounds while hitting six of eight from the floor.

The Griz hit nearly 55 percent from the floor and 50 percent from beyond the arc, shooting pretty consistently throughout the game. Not much production from the bench, though, where Montana was outscored 22-5. But Montana was salty on the boards with a 32-27 edge and took advantage inside with a 34-22 advantage in points in the paint.

It was crucial that the Grizzlies bounce back in a big way from their humiliating 18-point loss at Northern Colorado. They have home games next weekend against Eastern Washington and Portland State and they need to win at home to keep their regular-season Big Sky title hopes alive.

All in all, a good bounce-back Saturday for both the men and women at Montana. But as they say, “There’s a long way to go.” Back to UM Hoops home page.

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“Grizzly Bill” Schwanke is a UM journalism grad and Missoula native.  He spent 21 years doing play-by-play for Griz football and men’s basketball winning sportscaster of the year six times and working in Grizzly athletics for 15 years total. He’s enjoying retirement, especially the chance to spend time with his three grandsons. His wife Lynn and he have been married for 42years.